Ettore Sottsass, architect and industrial designer, was born in the city of Innsbruck in 1917 and has been one of the most influential and important figures of the 20th century design scene.
Exposed to the world of architecture since a young age, as his father himself was an architect, he grew up in Turin where he graduated from the Polytechnic University in 1939 before serving in the military during World War II and spending years in a labor camp in Yugoslavia. After returning home, he worked in his father’s studio renovating buildings that were destroyed during the war, before founding his own practice in Milan to focus on working with different means such as ceramic, painting and interior design.
In Milan, he immersed himself in the vibrant cultural landscape of the city, attending the literary salon that would allow him to meet with the illustrious architects and designers of him time, and married writer and translator Fernanda Pivano. She introduced him to the literary society of the city and to many writers and artists that would later influence his work beyond his initial approch to industrial design.
During his early years, he was first a member of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and later moved briefly to New York City to work with industrial design and Modernist George Nelson. He was then commissioned by entrepreneur Irving Richards a exhibition of ceramic works, a medium he had been pursuing since the beginning of his career and that was quickly launching him into international recognition for his originality and creativity.
His breakthrough came when Adriano Olivetti hired him as a design consultant in 1958 for Olivetti, the most important typewriter and computer manufacturer in Italy, renowned for its incredibly advanced design. For them, he developed the first Italian mainframe computer that won him the prestigious Compasso d’Oro prize in 1959, and a number of different typewriters, office equipment and furniture. His style began developing more clearly during his time at Olivetti: bringing bold colors, form and styling to office equipment, he pushed the boundaries between industrial design and pop culture. Moving from his first functional and sober typewriters to the Valentine in 1969, an accessory that became a fashion statement in the Italian society, he gained fame and recognition as an innovative and disruptive product designernot afraid to break the schemes and go beyond functionality and form.
Vase in blown glass
W 20 x D 20 x H 40 cm
Ettore Sottsass was innovative in his glass work design in defying the age-old Murano blown glass tradition of melting glass together by using glue to adhere glass together instead. Sottsass experimented with coloured glass and transparency, and appendages of unexpected details to basic forms. Recounting his glass works for Memphis, Ettore Sottsass wrote: ‘The first glass projects I designed for Memphis, produced by my friend Gigi Toso, were vases with more or less normal or predictable shapes, already seen before […] I modified these ancient forms by adding things to the surface, external unexpected and disorderly additions. Maybe it was just the combination of colours that was unusual, but in the end, at that moment, the attempt was to deviate from the established conventions.’
Here Sottsass the transparency and opaque possibilities of glass as a material, cutting the opaqueness of bright red body, and solid black base with transparent cylindrical forms of blue and yellow, which injects lightness into an otherwise solid object.